October 24, 2012
When Georgia adopted the Common Core Georgia Performance Standards (CCGPS) in July of 2010, it was clear that successfully implementing the standards would mean a long-term commitment to improving and updating several aspects of the state’s education system – from developing curriculum aligned to the new standards to choosing new learning resources and classroom materials. Successful implementation would also require educators and administrators to look beyond what they had done with past standards and embrace new ideas. In this regard, the Georgia Department of Education modeled exactly the kind of forward thinking professional development system that the standards call for and that will lead to improved instruction.
With Georgia’s urban districts and deep rural regions, as well as the inherent logistical difficulties and disruptiveness of pulling teachers out of their classrooms during the day, ensuring that teachers across the state had access to quality professional development opportunities presented a serious challenge to the GaDOE. To effectively reach all teachers and make sure that they were receiving the same critical information from the same source, the department adopted a blended approach to communications and professional development and embraced the power of technology to reach teachers where they are.
There were many challenges with the ‘train the trainer’ model used in previous years with the roll-out of the Georgia Performance Standards. A limited number of educators had access to quality professional learning through the train the trainer model. The information was not always made available to other educators in the field at the same level of depth and clarity. Therefore, the GaDOE planned for a blended approach to professional learning. Through a partnership with 16 Regional Education Service Agencies (RESAs), face-to face training is provided for cohorts of educators across the state. In addition, the GaDOE leveraged technology to utilize webinars and to produce live, interactive, and recorded professional learning sessions via Georgia Public Broadcasting,” says Pamela Smith, Director of Curriculum and Instruction for the Georgia Department of Education.
Georgia’s blended model of training includes both in-person and online opportunities that are accessible to all teachers. Rather than one option for professional learning by requiring teachers to leave the classroom and travel to a training site to attend in-person training sessions on the new standards and curriculum, the department is utilizing funds from their Race to the Top grant to partner with Georgia Public Broadcasting (GPB). This partnership with GPB was established to produce a series of live interactive sessions designed to provide training and support for teachers at their school building as they begin to align their lessons with the new standards. Individual grade level sessions on mathematics, English language arts, and literacy provide in-depth explanations and examples regarding the expectations for classroom instruction and student learning based on the new standards. Model units and teacher resources are being created for teachers at every grade level. These innovative GPB sessions are broadcast live, and are then recorded and archived online with an option for closed captioning. This allows teachers who were unable to participate in the live broadcasts the opportunity to participate and benefit in the archived sessions. Sessions are available on DVDs and are sent to districts that have limited broadband internet access to ensure all teachers and administrators are able to view each session.
Each interactive session includes a live chat for teachers to ask questions of the presenters. Resource documents for the sessions are posted online for teachers to review ahead of time. Once a teacher has viewed a session, live or archived, they complete a survey and receive a participation certificate from the state. This process allows the state to track participation data and use the surveys to adjust the GPB sessions along the way, making sure that they include essential content in future sessions and address the questions raised by teachers in previous sessions. So far, the approach has been well accepted in the field and teachers are optimistic about their ability to make the instructional shifts required for effective classroom implementation. The GPB sessions are open to the public. Parents and other stakeholders can also view the sessions and learn about the new standards and what they mean for students at each grade level in preparation for college and career readiness.
Embracing technology and looking for ways to provide innovative and accessible professional learning opportunities for all educators is critical for successful implementation of the Common Core Georgia Performance Standards and will lead to improved student academic achievement. Georgia’s partnerships with RESAs, postsecondary institutions, business and industry, parents, other states, and other agencies and stakeholders and the strategic use of Race to the Top funds serve as a model for other states as they look to prepare teachers to implement the Common Core standards into the classroom. Georgia will continue to provide teachers with a blended approach to professional learning by providing online resources and training, as well as face-to-face training. As the state prepares for the implementation of the Common Core and as assessments are put into place, the GaDOE will continue to work through its partners to make sure that geography or other challenges will not inhibit teacher access to quality professional learning and support.